Today women in the UK are celebrating the centenary of our first step towards universal suffrage. After many years of heroic campaigning, women over 30 who met certain criteria were at last given the right to vote in General Elections in the UK. Of course, it was not until 1928 that we were able to vote on the same terms as men. The UK was certainly not a trail blazing democracy in this regard as New Zealand gave women the vote in 1893, and the Republic of Georgia introduced equal suffrage in 1918 but at least we were well ahead of Switzerland (1971) and Portugal (1976).
Being able to vote and stand for office was an important step forward and we have made many strides since then. However, we all know that there is much more work to be done in the UK to ensure that there is true equality in pay, career opportunities and progression, representation in all levels of public life and at the very top of business.
I am proud that there are an equal number of Labour women MEPs as men and that in the European Parliament as a whole, 37.4% are women, a better proportion than in Westminster at 32% which is the highest number of women MPs in its history. Again, Labour are ahead with 45% of the Parliamentary Labour Party being women. In Europe we are way ahead of Hungary, where only 10% of MPs are women but there is still some way to go to catch up Sweden which has 44% women MPs.
It is perhaps not a coincidence that the European Union takes issues of equality very seriously. Much of our equality legislation is now derived from the EU as well as the fact that EU grants must be able to show that there is no negative gender impact and funding bodies must be gender balanced. We are always looking to go further. Last month the FEMM committee agreed a paper that is calling for Gender equality in EU trade agreements. I doubt that will be on offer if we end up leaving the EU and Liam Fox is doing a deal with Trump’s America.